Visible Religion | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Visible Religion

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Shadow puppetry is a venerable and popular way of retelling myths and other folk legends on the islands of Bali and Java, and gamelan music has always been a part of the tradition. In the multimedia show Visible Religion, director Kent Devereaux has assembled a group of American and Indonesian artists for a cross-cultural treatment of a tale from the Hindu epic Mahabharata. The production has a few Western twists, including episodes from Greek mythology and Dante's Inferno, and it blends Javanese puppetry, performed in front of a screen, with the Balinese style, which hides the puppeteer behind the screen. This reimagined version of the story of Bima, a minor Hindu deity introduced to the islands by seafaring traders more than a millennium ago, is narrated in Balinese, Javanese, and English. The gamelan accompaniment, written by Javanese composer Tony Prabowo and American Jarrad Powell, will be handled by the highly respected 15-member Seattle ensemble Gamelan Pacifica (with the usual complement of knobbed gongs, xylophone, cymbals, two-stringed fiddles, and flute). Two renowned masters, Java's Sri Djoko Rahardja and Bali's I Made Sidia, are in charge of the puppets. Chicagoan John Boesche is responsible for the visual design, which includes slide projections and other modern touches. Friday and Saturday at 8 PM, Sunday at 3 and 7:30 PM, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted, 335-1650 or 663-1628. $20. A discussion and demonstration of gamelan will be led by the show's creators on Saturday, October 1, from 3 to 4:30 PM at Steppenwolf. Free; for information, call 663-1628.

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